Thursday, 14 January 2016

Hitchhikers - the good and the bad

Bacteria are thought to influence eczema in various ways. I want to address that with the first part of my new regime. I've just finished a course of antibiotics for infected eczema so I want to rebalance my bacteria. This is my starting point. Not good is it?

I'm hoping to do that with:

No artificial sweeteners
High fibre diet with fermented foods
No meat, no dairy

Here’s the reasoning:

The autoimmune bit

How does the immune system work?

The body’s immune system is designed to recognise and neutralise threats. Sometimes it gets confused; result: friendly fire. The body attacks itself.

We are not alone.

90% of the cells in our bodies are hitchhikers. Bacteria and parasites (our biome) crowd every space in the vehicle. All we do is drive. They pay for the lift by helping our vehicle to run smoothly. One of the most important things they do is to regulate our immune systems. It's better for us if we have a wide range of helpers.

Most of our bugs live in the gut. A recent report on Horizon showed that lower levels of Bifidobacteria are found in children with allergies. So it seems logical that bringing in the right kind of helpers can do no harm and may do good.

So how do we pick up the good guys and send the baddies rolling down the road?

Ways we mess up our biomes

Mistake 1

We tend to drive straight down the motorway, picking up a handful of similar types. Much better if we went along country lanes and off road and filled our car with many different types of hitchers. In other words, get around and get mucky; it’s good for you. We’re talking country living, organic gardening, wild food, mud, pets etc; the type of activities that expose you to good bacteria; not sending your kids to play near a sewage outlet.

Mistake 2

We routinely poison our helpers with antibiotics, often given for something that the body would deal with by itself given time. In other words, bear up, it’s only a cold.
 Mistake 3

Bug paranoia. It’s common sense not to chop raw chicken and salad with the same knife, but there’s no need to constantly wipe and spray every surface including yourself with anti-bacterials. If you’re immune-compromised or a surgeon go ahead and wipe.

Mistake 4

Using artificial sweeteners. Don’t. They change gut bacteria. It’s possible that this has an effect on the immune system. It’s known that they favour bacteria that make weight gain and diabetes more likely.

Mistake 5

High intake of refined food and low intake of fibre. There’s a 75% reduction in bacterial diversity on a low fibre diet.

Mistake 6

Eating factory farmed meat and dairy. Cramped conditions and stress lead to disease. The animals are routinely given antibiotics at low doses as a preventative. Result: resistant strains of bacteria and imbalances pass down the food chain to us.
 Ways to rebalance our biome


There are many different brands available offering different levels and types of bacteria. We picked Bio-Kult advanced multi-strain because it contains 14 different types of bacteria (including bifidobacteria which can be low or absent in children with eczema). When choosing a probiotic read the reviews looking for evidence that the bacteria are surviving to populate the lower GI tract. When this course is finished I may try a brand containing more soil bacteria just to get as wide a range as possible.

Fermented foods

Fermented foods such as kimchi and yoghurt contain high levels of good bacteria. (I'm trying dairy-free and haven't got hold of any fermented veg yet).

High fibre diet

As above. Eat lots of fibre. It’s bug fodder.

Skin bacteria

Some research implicates the common skin bacteria staphylococcus aureus as the cause of eczema. It’s said to produce a biofilm which blocks sweat ducts activating the immune system to cause itching and irritation in people with a particular genetic profile.

Numbers and diversity of bacteria seem to play a role in eczema. Diversity falls during flare-ups. Levels of staphylococcus increase. There is insufficient research in this field but it would seem sensible to maintain a skin environment which supports diversity while discouraging the
overgrowth of staphylococcus.


Is it possible to take a differential approach to skin bacteria? Can we discourage staph aureus whilst encouraging diversity?

How are gut bacteria and skin bacteria linked?

Dermatologists, bacteriologists, please respond.

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